For the second of our October Spotlight features, we spoke to our virtual tenant – social impact specialist Louisa Burman.
Louisa has worked across several industries for over ten years, specialising in audit, risk management and process improvement. As a business owner and board director, Louisa gave us some fantastic advice for anybody interested in taking a similar leap. We spoke about her other big project, Liverpool SOUP, and she gave us an insight into businesses she believes are making a positive social impact.
Earlier this year, we worked with Louisa to review our own social impact. She has hosted free events for our community, giving businesses a quick-start guide to social impact, BCorp certification and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This month, Louisa will host another two free sessions at the Baltic Creative Campus. Read on to find out more and how you can sign-up!
Thanks for speaking to us, Louisa! Can you tell us about the work you do?
Thanks for having me! My work centres around supporting SMEs to understand, improve and report their impact. Typically this takes the form of bespoke impact strategy, reporting and/or support in adopting BCorp or UN SDG framework. I specialise in social impact with a particular focus on stakeholder engagement to help businesses co-design effective change.
How did you get into this area? What’s your background?
I have over a decade of experience working across industries, for both SMEs and multi-billion pound businesses; which gave me the ability to understand businesses and their processes quickly. This means I can give recommendations which best suit a businesses’ objectives and culture. Before starting my own business, I completed training with Social Value UK and B Lab UK.
My passion for sustainability, in particular social value, has grown significantly over the last five years and is amplified by the voluntary roles I hold. Since early 2019 I’ve been the Committee Chair for Liverpool SOUP and, for over a year, I’ve sat on the Board for both Kindred LCR and Sefton Park Palm House.
So, what made you decide to set-up your own business?
Before I moved to Liverpool I’d already worked for myself for a few years providing finance and project management support to local businesses, so I already had a taste for it. I knew that I wanted to create a business which reflected my values. I had a growing interest in social impact – in particular the potential for businesses to generate social impact ‘ripples’ with how they operated.
During the pandemic, I was able to continue working full-time which enabled me to save quicker and afford training so I felt more comfortable making the jump. Additionally, the impact of the pandemic on people and communities made it really clear to me that more emphasis was needed regarding the value generated from investing in people and communities. I knew I was well placed to support businesses to integrate corresponding strategies and approaches into their BAU.
What would be your advice to someone looking to take the leap and use their expertise in the same way?
I’m generally quite a risk averse person. Having worked in risk management for so long, my default mindset is to think about everything that can go wrong. There were times when I caught myself catastrophising worse case scenarios before I fully committed to setting up my own business.
I found writing to be a really useful tool to work through this, so I asked myself: what am I afraid of, what’s the worst that could happen and why might it work? I went back to the first two questions and jotted down counter arguments for each of the statements I’d noted. What could I do to reduce the chance of these things coming true or minimise their effect?
I found this exercise to be really valuable to bring myself back to reality and focus on actions to support my success. Starting a business takes a lot of energy but being able to focus your energy on actionable, constructive steps rather than worry is hugely beneficial.
That’s great advice Louisa. You mentioned earlier about being a director with Sefton Park Palm House and Kindred LCR. What’s been your experience of that?
My directorship experience has been very different between the two. Kindred LCR is a relatively new organisation and Sefton Park Palm House has been established for over 20 years. The combination of sitting on both Boards has been a really interesting learning curve for me. It’s encouraged me to further develop my ability to switch between mindsets, from one that’s very detail driven to one that’s focused more on oversight, strategy and high-level risk management. I care passionately about place-based investment and its ability to unlock the potential ripple effects of social impact. Being part of discussions which support this in both these roles gives me hope and inspiration.
Sounds positive! Would you encourage others to apply for director roles?
I think it’s incredibly important that Boards are more diverse to truly represent the communities and people they impact. I would absolutely encourage others to apply for director roles. It can feel intimidating at times but my advice would be to make sure you set aside enough time to properly understand the organisation and to chat to other Board members so you can get a better understanding of what makes them tick and how you’ll work best together.
Which brands stand out to you as having a positive social impact?
Tony’s Chocolonely is one of the first that come to mind. They have a wonderfully ambitious mission for “100% slave free chocolate” to be the norm. To do this they have a clear road map to raise awareness, lead by example, and inspire other key players to act. I love how their social mission is front and centre of everything they do. For example, the squares in their chocolate bars aren’t sized equally to represent the inequalities in the chocolate industry. Also, one of the days in their advent calendar was left empty last year to prompt a conversation around inequality.
Closer to home, I really like the work that Innovate Her do. They focus on addressing both sides of the problem when it comes to gender diversity in the tech industry. Their mission is “to get girls ready for the tech industry, and the industry ready for girls.” They do this through providing accessible training to girls, while working with key partners to develop and implement successful D&I strategies.
Brilliant examples. What services do you offer to businesses who want to start improving their social impact in the same way?
If you’re impact-curious and would like to better understand your social and environmental impact without much of a time commitment, I offer an Impact Mapping service linked to the UN SDGs. There is a fixed price for businesses with less than 50 employees and a turnover of less than £10mil. It will advise you on the SDGs which are most relevant to your business, giving examples of activities which would contribute to improving the impact against each goal. Once you’ve completed this process with me you’ll also get 10% off with Green Small Business. They can help if you’d like to implement an Environmental Management System or calculate your carbon footprint. If anybody is interested or has any questions they can email me at [email protected].
That’s great, thanks! Your other big project is Liverpool SOUP. Tell us how that started?
During 2018 I challenged myself to donate £10 a month to a super local, grassroots project so I could learn about the things happening on my doorstep and grasp the challenges faced by those living in the same city as me. I found this target to be surprisingly challenging and time consuming! Due to the reactive nature of these projects, there was no way to find them online and make a direct donation.
I was inspired to search for mechanisms to enable crowdfunding for local projects and people. I stumbled across Detroit SOUP which started in 2010 to bring together local creatives who wanted to support one another. They cultivated a potluck evening based around food, community and ideas that inspired. Attendees paid $5 on the door, made food to share and listened to each other pitch their ideas. They then voted for the idea which they thought most deserving of all the money raised on the door.
The idea really took off and they shared their successes and learnings worldwide. When I started looking into the concept in more detail I found that a Liverpool SOUP had run from 2015 to 2017. I was really fortunate to meet the previous organiser to understand what had worked well for them. This gave me some ideas of how to get started…
Sounds great! So you were able to pick up where they left off?
Yes, by June 2019 the Liverpool SOUP Committee had grown from just me to three people! We hosted a lovely, wholesome event with 36 attendees raising an impressive £485 for Croxteth Community Garden. They wanted to hire a local carpenter to build tables and benches from reclaimed wood so that schools could visit them to learn more about gardening and where food comes from. Nine SOUPs later, we hosted 100 people raising £1,765 for Litter Clear Volunteer. This enabled them to invest in a cart to help carry their equipment and manage recycling.
Thanks to some anonymous cash donations from supporters who are keen to help us grow our impact, we’re also able to give £100 to the three runner up pitchers to thank them for sharing their projects with us. We can also pay a local musician to play while we enjoy a drink after the winner is announced. Our next Liverpool SOUP will be 17th November at Leaf on Bold St. You can join our mailing list for early notification of our tickets sales opening.
You’ve also got some workshops coming up at Baltic Creative! Can you tell us about your plans for the sessions?
Absolutely! Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be running two in person lunch-and-learn sessions in The Shed. They’ll be perfect for SMEs keen to learn more about their impact.
The first workshop will be about understanding your social impact. We’ll cover the differences between social impact and social value; key elements of social impact that relate to businesses; and approaches to enable you to start measuring social impact.
The second workshop will focus specifically on BCorp and determining whether it’ll suit your business. We’ll cover the topics of the BCorp certification, the process to becoming certified and the types of companies best suited. Feel free to bring your lunch along with your notepad and join us!
Amazing! What does the rest of 2022 look like for you?
In addition to my typical client work, I’m really looking forward to speaking at the Better Business Summit in Manchester. I’m also developing the impact reporting for Liverpool SOUP which will give us some really interesting insights into how and to what extent we impact our pitchers and attendees.
I also volunteer with Liverpool Tool Library and have been supporting them with their Member’s Survey which we got a fantastic response to. I’m really looking forward to sitting down with them to talk through my analysis of the responses and support them to develop a strategy which is truly member-centric.
Thanks to Louisa for speaking to us!
If you’d like to learn more about Louisa Burman’s work, you can send her an email or connect through LinkedIn to arrange a chat. Don’t forget to give Liverpool SOUP a follow on social media so you can stay up-to-date with future events!
Images (c) Louisa Burman.